Friends and colleagues of John Coates, a valued member of the SEP, will be pleased to know that another collection of John’s memoirs has now appeared. This volume follows Pleasures on the Periphery which, several years ago, introduced the first intimate cameos from an eventful life.

It Wasn’t a Nightmare (Cuvillier, 2023) now promises to offer "a second collection of authentic and at times surreal observations of life and work in the provinces and also some of the capitals of Poland, Hungary, Finland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain and the former GDR." It is also embellished with a number of original photographs relating to the figures and places described in these remarkable vignettes.

The volume opens with a moving passage on the author’s school experiences, an austere world of beatings and hard knocks worthy of George Orwell. Others track the lives and loves of a well-travelled existence, reminiscent of Laurie Lee at his best. Memorable characters we meet along that way feature a broad dramatis personae drawn from daily life. Take, for instance, the author’s middle-aged manager ‘punctual, reliable very soberly and correctly dressed’ nervously unsure of the propriety of ‘suede shoes once in a while with his mid-grey three-piece suit.’ It is left to the reader to discover the surprising fate that befell Mr Dale on a memorable holiday in Guernsey.

Typical, on the one hand, are the understated portraits that come through in these stories, stories told by a mind finely tuned to the pleasures of the quotidian, tales of the friendships and subtle lessons that the world delivers to us when we are paying close attention. On the other, it tells the tales of lives resonating with the bigger political and moral struggles of their own time, a world populated by Cold War bully-boys and Gestapo agents.

Copies of this and other excellent works by the author can be had from the publisher. Hopefully soon we will also find copies available in the SEP library.